Lt. Christian Boada was terminated September 23 from the Sweetwater Police Department after body-cam footage uncovered during a random check showed him talking with a former city commissioner and allegedly insulting the department.
Boada, who says his firing was excessive, has appealed the termination and will appear before the city commission January 14 to make his case.
The body-cam footage, obtained by New Times, shows Boada and another officer responding to a noise complaint at a house party last August. After addressing the volume, Boada is seen on his partner's body cam conversing with former Sweetwater Commissioner Idania Llanio at the party.
Boada told Llanio in Spanish: "I know of 12 police officers that are applying to leave this department... and if they don't leave, they are going to lay off 17 policemen."
The reprimand against Boada states that after he made those comments, he allegedly saw he was in view of his partner's body cam and told her to turn it off. In the video, Boada looks directly into the camera after speaking to Llanio, and the footage suddenly stops.
Sweetwater Police Chief Placido Diaz called Boada's actions "inept and reckless behavior" and terminated him for violating department policy. He tells New Times Boada's statements were false and harmful to the city.
"First of all, it's untrue. You're spreading gossip about the department that kills morale," Diaz says. "You're tainting the badge that you wear."
However, Sweetwater Commissioner Marcos Villanueva, a former police lieutenant, says the punishment doesn't fit the crime. He believes the termination was politically motivated.
"What was done to him was an unfair labor practice and a violation of his First Amendment right," Villanueva tells New Times.
Boada's comments about officers leaving the force weren't completely off the mark either, according to Villanueva. He says that during budget talks with the mayor, there was a fear that police salaries would be cut.
"We had 20 or 30 police officers applying to other agencies," Villanueva says.
A review of Boada's disciplinary file shows this reprimand is only his second since joining the police department in 2013. He was also written up for hitting a parked police car while leaving the parking lot at the end of his shift in 2014.
Though turning off a body cam and disparaging the police department are policy violations, Villanueva says, they're pretty minor infractions for an officer to be immediately terminated.
"It's all political," the commissioner says. "How can you fire someone for just talking?"
Mayor Orlando Lopez says the body cams are a relatively new addition to the police force, and procedure calls for them to be on at all times while on the job. "If you order another officer to turn off their camera, that violates policy and violates the public trust," Lopez tells New Times. (The mayor also disputes Boada's comments and calls them untrue.)
After he was fired, Boada appealed his termination to Lopez, who upheld it. Boada is now due to appeal again before the full commission next week. His attorney from the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, Cristina Escobar, tells New Times the allegation against him does not warrant termination.
"Per the facts of the case, Lt. Boada's termination was unjust as it was/is excessive... The allegation itself does not rise to the level of termination," Escobar wrote in an email. "Lt. Boada was a good employee with no disciplinary history; he represented the department and served his community well."